Discrimination And Women’s Independence In Kate Chopin’s Regret And Desiree’s Baby

6 min, 23 sec read Download Article


In Regret, Kate Chopin presents a protagonist, Mamzelle Aurelle, who, despite her old age (50 years), is still single. Mamzelle has never been married or fallen in love, and does not seem to think of marriage even in her old age. However, she enjoys the company of her dog and Negro workers. In one instance, Odile, Mamzelle’s neighbor, goes to attend to her ailing mother, leaving Mamzelle with her four children. Since she has never given birth, Mamzelle has never taken care of children. She faces extreme difficulties and complains about watching the youngest of the four. Mamzelle is not shy about communicating how disgusted she is about the children to Aunt Ruby, her cook. As time progresses, Mamzelle realizes that she actually loves being with the children and feels sad and empty when Odile comes back to take them. She breaks down and wails so hard that she does not realize her dog licking her hands.

Desiree’s Baby features Desiree, an adopted daughter of a wealthy and influential French Creole family of the Valmonde’s. Armand, a son of another prominent French Creole family, courts Desiree, with whom they marry and sire a baby. The baby is interracial, and people clearly note and comment about the difference. The fact that Desiree’s parents are unknown and the color of the baby throws Armand into a fit of rage because he assumes that she is black. Armand develops scorn for Desiree, throws her out of the house, burns all her belongings, courtship letters, and even the cradle of their baby. However, in the bundle of letters, Armand discovers one that reveals he is half black in accordance with the ancestry of his mother. Kate Chopin fails to define the ancestry of Desiree explicitly.


Just like many of Kate Chopin’s short stories, the two readings above prominently feature social issues. In Desiree’s Baby, issues of racial discrimination (racism) feature prominently, among others, such as marriage, gender subjugation, oppression, and liberation. Chopin ushers readers into the window of racism when she says:

“When the baby was about three months old, Desiree awoke one day to the conviction that there was something in the air menacing her peace. It was at first too subtle to grasp. It had only been a disquieting suggestion” (179).

The quote foreshadows Armand’s gradually changing attitude and behavior towards Desiree because of the baby’s race. The tragic claws of racism begin to grasp and tear apart the family that Armand and Desiree were trying to create. From then on, things were never the same up to the point where the two previous lovers separate. Armand loathes the black race so profoundly that he does not care about any consequences of his actions (Salajová). In fact, it does not even bother him that the innocent child is involved and may have his future ruined because of his hatred. Given the Louisiana setting and the prevailing racial discrimination situation at the time, Armand feared that marrying and siring a baby with Desiree could ruin the reputation of his family. Kate Chopin demonstrates hatred so pure and raw that readers are not left doubting the consequences of racism and racial discrimination.

Yet, amidst the construct of racism, Kate Chopin includes the themes of gender subjugation in the marriage. Desiree is portrayed to be so fearful of Armand and so oppressed to have her own standing, at least at the beginning. Chopin writes:

When he frowned she trembled, but loved him. When he smiled, she asked no greater blessing of God” (179).

Desiree looks more like a slave than a wife in this case. In fact, while Armand has caused Desiree so much pain in the past, she stayed put and persevered through her troublesome marriage. In almost all instances, even before she was forced to leave, she still asks, "Shall I go, Armand" (181), thus communicating her reluctance on the one hand, and subjugation on the other that she has always to seek approval from her husband. It could be argued that Desiree had been affected by the slave mentality. However, she was also a woman thrown into the jaws of a patriarchal society in which her survival depended on the existence and approval of the man. Kate Chopin later presents a woman who liberates herself from the oppression. She writes that Desiree “disappeared among the reeds and willows that grew thick along the banks of the deep, sluggish bayou; and she did not come back again” (181). The resolution and focus to leave and never return is a demonstration of just how much Desiree had been fed up with her marriage. She looks more like an uncaged bird. She was so determined to enjoy her freedom that she musters all her strength, and, for once, the picture of a liberated woman comes into view (Ostman 104). The victory of this freedom is further sweetened when Armand discovers that he was the one who is half black, and regrets his attitude and actions towards Desiree.

The breakaway from patriarchy and gender discrimination is furthered in Regret. Kate Chopin presents Mamzelle, a resolute woman who, despite the societal constructs, chooses to remain unmarried and enjoy her freedom. At the age of 19 years, she receives a marriage proposal from a man whom she promptly rejects because she wanted to be alone. Matarneh and Zeidanin (87-92) do not think that Mamzelle’s decision was a protest against the patriarchal society but because she wanted to continue enjoying her haven of freedom. She feels complete that way and would detest entering into any form of agreement that disturbs her peace. Ideally, Mamzelle is complete in every aspect of life because she is so wealthy that she has workers, both in her farms and house. Mamzelle’s definition of a perfect life is wealth and freedom seeing as she is comfortable in the presence of her possessions, workers, and dog. In fact, Mamzelle thinks that a woman can just be as strong as a man (Gabriella). Kate Chopin’s main idea in this story, however, is confusing considering the non-static nature of Mamzelle’s character. She is both masculine and feminine at the same time. The confusion is further exacerbated by the fact that, while Mamzelle appears liberated and complete, she cries about children towards the end of the story. She can be seen deeply regretting not having children when Odile takes them away. At this point, it is difficult to know whether Mamzelle’s previous non-conformity is about personal conflicts, ignorance, confusion, or genuine freedom-seeking behavior. Probably, the main message Kate Chopin is trying to convey is that women can never get perfect freedom. Or, perhaps, the idea that a woman is fragile and would always need someone to love and reciprocate the feeling. The overwhelming regret and raft of emotions at the end of the story somewhat nullify the freedom gains implied in the previous sections of the story.

Both Regret and Desiree’s Baby actively address social issues, including marriage, racism, operation and liberation, and discrimination. All these link to Kate Chopin’s background and prevailing conditions at the time. Regret dominantly explores the issue of racism and its consequences. It also advances the idea that an oppressed woman finally liberates herself. Desiree’s Baby gives a woman masculine characteristics in a thinly veiled bid to champion for gender equality. Yet, this fails at the end when Mamzelle breaks down and reveals the fragility of women, which makes them vulnerable to the negativities of a patriarchal society.

Share this post:

Cite this Page


GradShark (2023). Discrimination and Women’s Independence in Kate Chopin’s Regret and Desiree’s Baby. GradShark. https://gradshark.com/example/discrimination-and-womens-independence-in-kate-chopins-regret-and-desirees-baby

Finding it challenging to complete your essay within the given deadlines?